Inside the Source: Of Goats and Trees in the Southeast
March 20, 2019
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Of Goats and Trees in the Southeast by Andrea Watts
Among the mature stands of loblolly pine on Florida A&M University’s 137-acre research farm are goats grazing the bahia grass and legumes growing beneath the trees. This herd is the most-recent study subject of a research project that Oghenekome “Kome” Onokpise started in 2001. Although his primary research is on tree genetics, Onokpise, saw an opportunity to research whether a silvopasture system and loblolly pine plantations were compatible.
“We hypothesized that if we [could] come up with research information that can help landowners introduce small ruminants into their plantations, they could derive income until those trees reach marketable stages,” he said.
An SAF member and professor with Florida A&M University’s College of Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agriculture (CESTA), now the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences (CAFS), Onokpise knew there were landowners who could benefit from implementing silvopasture on their land to generate additional revenue. These landowners were typically first- and second-generation tree farmers with acreage ranging from five to 20 acres that had been planted in loblolly, slash, or longleaf pine in 1985 when they enrolled in the conservation reserve program (CRP). They also resided within the tristate area of northern Florida, southern Georgia, and southeast Alabama, which has a similar pine ecosystem across state lines. Some had previously raised beef cattle, but the downturn in the market during the mid-2000s resulted in their looking for alternative and sustainable farming systems.